Three Thoughts On The New Nielsen Study
A recent PR News email included this headline: “PR is 88 percent more effective than content marketing, says new Nielsen Study.”
Those of us involved in both media relations and content marketing – and an increasing number of communications professionals are – may have had mixed emotions upon reading that, first thinking, “Hurray for PR,” and then wondering whether it was time to worry about the future of content marketing.
If that headline wasn’t enough, there was this nugget in the second paragraph of the email:
“The results show that consumers rely on credible, third-party content more than branded content or user-generated content when making decisions. In fact, third-party content was the only content type to exhibit a strong lift in all three areas of the purchase cycle — making the press coverage that PR secures more strategic than ever.”
Unfortunately, because of the pressure of the business, few people will take the time to dig into the actual study, titled “The Role of Content in the Consumer Decision Making Process.” Those who do will see that what the study does is not pit media coverage against branded content, but documents the relative value of each in influencing purchase of consumer products. In fact, the report’s conclusion includes this recommendation:
“Knowing the power of expert content, advertisers may want to consider increasing consumer exposure to expert content to build greater trust while also supplementing with branded content and users reviews to build familiarity and influence opinions about the product.”
Here are three thoughts I came away with after reading the full report.
- The results aren’t surprising. I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a hard number for influence – and the report delivers real value in establishing that – but it certainly is no surprise that consumers would trust, and be influenced by, expert content more than branded content. We want knowledgeable, objective sources when collecting information on which to base a decision, and the media provides that. Of course, there are fewer sources of that type of third-party expert information today than there were ten years ago. And, with objectivity comes the risk that a product reviewer will point out flaws in a product or rate a competitor’s product higher. The point being that in today’s search-driven, multi-channel world, you can’t afford to rely exclusively on any one source of influence. As the report’s conclusion makes clear, this isn’t an either/or proposition. Content marketing and media relations are symbiotic, not competitive.
- Branded content can do more than the report could measure. The report methodology involved recruiting targeted consumers in Las Vegas and placing them in a controlled environment where they were exposed to the three types of content the report measured. Pre- and post-exposure surveys measured the influence of each type of content. For branded content, researchers pulled information from brand websites to ensure relatively consistent content across brands. This was effective for the study, but of course one of the strengths of content marketing is its ability to connect emotionally with consumers to build affinity as brands like Dove, Chipotle and Coke have demonstrated. Content marketing can have much more reach and impact than this type of report could measure.
- InPowered, the report’s sponsor, used content marketing (I’m sure in concert with PR) to promote the study and, indirectly, its own role in helping brands increase exposure to expert content. It’s a solid, well executed marketing program that relies heavily on branded content.
In summary, the Nielsen study is a valuable tool to quantify the influence of expert content, user content and branded content, but it shouldn’t be used to pit one against the other.